Former Derry deputy mayor Cara Hunter makes her maiden speech at Stormont

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The former deputy mayor of Derry and Strabane Cara Hunter has made her maiden speech at Stormont.

She used it to pay tribute to her predecessor as East Derry MLA, the late John Dallat, spoke of her pride in being a member of the party of John Hume and Seamus Mallon, and said economic unfairness meant young people from Drumsurn and Park did not enjoy the same opportunities as their peers east of the Bann.

She also told how the loss of her best friend, Zachary Geddis, by suicide in 2017 had inspired her to become involved in politics.

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Paying tribute to Mr. Dallat, who died in March, she said: "Living in East Derry, you know that John's legacy is as evident as it is poignant. He left an indelible mark on his constituency. We remember him, and, though we are grieved by his loss, we take comfort in his immense achievements. He was always the champion of the underdog.

"From becoming the first nationalist mayor of Coleraine to his unwavering commitment to the heartbreaking Inga Maria Hauser case, John always demonstrated the depth of his conviction and care.

"In a time of great political upheaval and distress, when it was far from easy to be an SDLP representative, John served with bravery, tenacity, dignity and diligence. I can only hope that I too might serve East Derry with the courage and conviction that guided him. We shall never see his like again."

Ms. Hunter told MLAs she was only a toddler when the Good Friday Agreement was signed and worried that the hope of 1998 was fading for many.

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"I stand here as a proud Irish nationalist, and I am extremely proud to be a member of the SDLP, a party with a legacy of fighting for civil rights and built by peacemakers such as John Hume and Seamus Mallon.

"I was three years old when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Therefore, it would be untrue to suggest that I recall the sense of hope that it created. However, I know that that sense of hope has begun to fade for the ceasefire generation: my generation," she stated.

The former Derry deputy mayor said more investment was needed in the west or more people would turn their back on the Assembly.

"Many have lost faith in all of us in Stormont. There are many challenges, but what I see is a generation of young people crying out for opportunity. We must work diligently to stop the exodus of our talented young people to other shores.

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"We need investment in skills and education. We need apprenticeship opportunities, faster rural broadband and stronger transport links. Rural areas can no longer go isolated and underfunded.

"The forgotten communities in the north-west have been neglected for too long. Many feel that there is an undeniable regional imbalance, a postcode lottery.

"A child from Park or Drumsurn will not always have the same opportunities as a child from Belfast, owing to the continued lack of investment in the north-west. That must change. It is my obligation, along with everyone else in the Chamber, to build a place that our people can not only survive in but thrive in, a place of opportunity, of understanding and of growth," she stated.

She spoke of the importance of tackling mental health issues having lost her best friend Zachary through suicide in 2017.

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"Like many, I believe that your story is your power. I would not be standing here today if I were not one of many who have lost a dear friend to suicide.

"Like so many in Northern Ireland, I feel that mental health is an issue that rises above politics, for, as we all know, mental illness recognises not race, colour or creed. It is blind to income and deaf to religion. Growing up, I looked at the Assembly with everything ranging from disappointment to dire disillusionment. It was only when I lost my best friend at the start of its collapse in 2017 that I realised that I had to do something, and that is why I am here today," she said.

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